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Another Huge Mac & Cheese Brand Is Being Sued for Toxins

A suit alleges that 20 products from this "organic" brand are currently mislabeled.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

If the recent toxins lawsuit against Kraft Macaroni & Cheese caused you to turn to its competitor that promotes itself as more natural, take note. The National Law Review has reported on a lawsuit claiming that Annie's Homegrown Mac and Cheese contains phthalates—chemicals that have been connected with allergies, asthma, obesity, and hormone interference in children, among other health concerns.

What the Lawsuit Claims

The lawsuit against Annie's Homegrown Mac and Cheese was filed earlier this month in the Southern District of New York, in which the plaintiff alleges that more than 20 of Annie's products "are mislabeled and falsely advertised as 'Made with Goodness!'" The landing page of the brand's website claims that the macaroni and cheese is "Made with real cheese" and "made with organic pasta." However, the lawsuit alleges their cheese powder contains ortho-phthalates that are not disclosed on the label, according to the N.L.R.'s report.

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The plaintiff in the case says there's proof that the brand "acknowledges the problem" but has continued to manufacture their products with phthalates anyway by pointing to the FAQ section of Annie's website, which says: "We are troubled by the recent report of phthalates found in dairy ingredients of macaroni and cheese."

Annie's also cites data from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which "has published risk assessment data which notes a Total Daily Intake of 0.05 mg/kg of body weight" as a threshold for levels of phthalates in food. Annie's says that "any trace of phthalates" in their foods "are below the EFSA standard."

As National Law Review points out, similar cases have been dismissed in which "the basis that the failure to disclose trace, non-harmful amounts of a chemical does not constitute misleading advertising where the substance is pervasive in the environment and present in many foods."

Concerns About Phthalates

Regarding how serious this news is for you and your family, Nicole Avena, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a visiting professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University, tells Eat This, Not That!: "Parents should be very concerned about the use of phthalates."

"Phthalates are found in foods, but they are not put there naturally. They're there because of food packaging and food-handling equipment," Avena adds. "They can act as endocrine disruptors—meaning they are hormone-mimicking chemicals. There have been several studies showing that phthalate exposure can lead to a reduction in fertility."

On whether you should change your buying habits in light of this, Avena adds: "When it comes to our children's health, quality of food is much more important than convenience, especially in light of this new information about phthalates. Parents need to be advocates for the health and future of our children. We can't stand back and let companies expose our children to chemicals that are known to cause health and reproductive problems."

Make It Healthier At-Home

Instead of opting for the store-bought stuff, Avena suggests making your own mac and cheese at home, such as the one she makes for her kids below.

Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese
-2 cups elbow macaroni, about 12 ounces cooked
-12 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese ("You can swap in other cheeses here, too, like white cheddar," Avena says)
-2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
-2 tablespoons butter

Instructions: Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, then return to pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until all is melted and combined. Serve, and enjoy!

For more, check out our list of the 7 Unhealthiest Lunch Foods for Your Family, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter for the latest important food news.

Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at <em>Eat This, Not That!</em>, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more